Happy Birthday to My Firstborn!

Dear Friends,

It’s such a wonderful day — it’s the 14 year anniversary of the day I became a mother! Today is Hunter’s birthday, and tonight we are going out to celebrate. Our weekend was spent hosting a birthday party for him, and this evening is all about him. That means my regularly scheduled Mediterranean Monday post will be on hold until next week. I didn’t want to leave anyone hanging, so I thought I would let you know why you won’t be seeing any yummy food tonight!

Hunter wants wings for his birthday, so we’re going to a local dive called Pilot House, for wings and barbecue and a steak for Logan. These celebratory occasions call for a break from my normal healthy eating habits. Tonight, I will be enjoying some pulled pork with pimento cheese, and a side of fries. I already know I’ll probably be feeling sluggish afterwards, but I wholeheartedly believe that we must allow ourselves an occasional splurge in order to stay consistent. Life is short, so always make room for things you love!

With that, I leave you with my birthday boy:



My Boys Left for the Summer, Leaving my Mom Emotions Totally Confused

Dear Friends,

Being a mom is weird. It plays tricks on you. It is stressful, frustrating, complicated, even infuriating. It is also rewarding, joyful, fulfilling and enlightening. It can have you pulling your hair out, losing your ever-loving mind and begging for a break from your life one minute, and filled with love and happiness the next. Some days you can experience all of these things at the exact same moment.

My boys are gone to their dad’s now or the summer, home only every other weekend. On Monday, they had their last half-day of school. It was a busy day filled with anticipation. I went to the awards assembly at Logan’s school that morning to see him receive his student of the month award, and then went back to pick up his brother and him at noon so we could fulfill our annual tradition of having sushi on the last day of school.

We went to Midori and pigged out on sushi, went to Aldi so I could stock up on groceries that I wanted for meals that don’t have to please the kids, and then went home for our last hour of time together before they left to start their summer vacation. When we got home, Logan made for the bathroom, Hunter turned on the Xbox, and I started putting groceries away. We’d been home for about 10 minutes when the doorbell rang and Ruby went through her usual psycho dog routine.

I called to Hunter that whoever it is, they can’t stay because we’re leaving, assuming it was a neighborhood kid. Hunter looked out the window and said, “it’s not for me, there’s a bunch of grown ups out there.” Shit! I’d completely forgotten that the middle school teachers drive around to the houses of each student of the month to put signs in their front yards and take pictures with them. I yelled at Logan to get his butt out of the bathroom as I rushed to the front door. I pushed Ruby back from the door, opened it just enough to squeeze through, then pulled it shut behind me before she could spill out onto the porch in a furry, frenzied, yapping heap.

I had a yard full of teachers looking for Logan and being met, instead, by me. I sheepishly told them it would be one second because Logan was in the bathroom. They burst out laughing at their timing, and one of his teachers jokingly said, “tell him to cut it off!” My friend Ashley, who was Logan’s teacher this year, had text me that they were heading my way, but I’d been busy putting groceries away and hadn’t even heard my phone go off. We were woefully unprepared!

Logan finally made his way outside, his pink polo shirt and neon pink hair brightly reflecting the sun, to get his picture taken with his teachers standing around the sign they’d placed in our yard. Mrs. Doran said she had to wear her pink shirt just for him, causing a blush that nearly matched his hair. My boys have been talking all year about dying their hair funky colors. So for the last day of school I bought colored hair spray and let Hunter color his hair bright green, and Logan neon pink. How cool is it that they go to a school where their individuality and self-expression is celebrated by the staff?!

The teachers all raced off as quickly as they’d arrived, diving into vans and SUV’s to go celebrate the next student, and Logan and I went back inside–me to finish putting away groceries and him to pack up the things he was taking with him for the summer. I changed my clothes, loaded the boys’ things into the trunk, and headed out for the two hour trek to meet their stepmom, with a quick stop at my grandparents’ house on the way so they could say their goodbyes.

I’d been thinking for weeks about what I would do with my much-needed downtime. I deep cleaned my car inside and out, washed all the laundry, dusted and polished furniture, and scrubbed counters in the kitchen and bathroom, wanting everything clean and ready to be enjoyed since with only me at home it would actually stay clean and I could be free to do other things. Like read and binge-watch the shows I haven’t had time for. Cook all of the foods that I love that my oldest child won’t eat. Lounge in the living room in my underwear. Go out for dinner and drinks with friends. Live a completely chill and relaxed life for the next 12 weeks.

But now the day had arrived. The time was here for them to go, and it felt like I was living in a daydream. I knew the time had come, and yet my mind couldn’t quite grasp what was happening. They were leaving, but it still felt like I was going to drive right back home, we were all going to go to bed that night, and I would be waking them up at 6:15 in the morning to head out for another day of school and work. Like them leaving was nothing more than the drive to get there, and the trip would end with us all right back home where we’d started.

That isn’t how it happened, though. A few minutes before 7:00, I turned the corner onto my street and was overcome by an unfamiliar, confusing feeling. This was it. I was driving up my street, getting ready to begin my first free evening of the summer, what I’d been anticipating–practically begging for–all month. Time to myself. Time to unwind. Time to recuperate after a crazy last few months. Time for the world to stop spinning in a dusty swirl around me and let me catch my breath. But now that it was here, I didn’t want it.

All I could think as I rounded the bend, less than a block from my driveway, was that I wanted the boys to be pulling into the driveway with me. I wanted them to get out of the car and burst through the door, dropping dirt and belongings and noise in a trail behind them. Instead I walked through the door by myself, the only sound that of Ruby’s barking demands to be let inside. The house was dark, and once I let Ruby in through the back door, it was quiet. I sat my purse in its place on the living room desk and dropped my keys inside, an empty feeling settling into the pit of my stomach as the stillness of the room permeated around me.

I showered and got my clothes out for the next day, then settled into the chair in the living room–the one usually taken over by Hunter playing games on the Xbox–with two hours before bedtime that would not be interrupted by the boys’ showers and bedtime routine. It was strange and confusing, and it was tough to concentrate on the TV despite the silence and absence of distractions throughout the house.

At 9:30 I turned off the TV and went to bed, where I tossed and turned for an hour before falling asleep, then woke half an hour before time to get up the next morning. I spent Tuesday, the first day of my summer, tired and devoid of energy…not exactly what I’d anticipated the start of my summer to be like.

But that same evening, I had my first outing–a barbecue for a friend’s birthday with his family and some of our friends. I got home from work, changed my clothes, dusted a fresh coat of powder onto my face, grabbed my lemony, summery beer, and made way to the barbecue. That evening catapulted me forward into the new customs of my summertime life. When I got back home around 9 that night, the house didn’t seem so eerily quiet anymore.

I took a shower, then Hunter called and I talked to him and Logan until it was time for me to go to bed. My emotions seemed to finally understand that the boys were gone, and that empty feeling gave way to acceptance. I slept well that night, and I woke the next morning ready for whatever the summer might bring my way.


The Conflicting Roles of Mom and Single Woman Have Me Feeling Guilty

Hi Friends!

Before I get to the meat of this post–this last week has been a busy one at my house! Saturday was spent cleaning out gutters, and I still have the gutters in the front to do. I discovered the section that was clogged when I bought the house is going to need to be replaced, because it is sagging just enough from an unknown length of time holding a metric ton of crud that water stands in it rather than running to the downspout.

You guys–the former owners of my house glued on the gutter screens! Those flimsy, cheap, plastic screens from the hardware store…glued on! I had to peel off adhesive to remove the screens so I could clean all of the gutters. There are some fancy, expensive gutter guards out there that permanently protect your gutters, but these sure aren’t it! Even with these screens on, the gutters need to be cleaned out every couple of years because grit from the shingles and tiny bits of tree trash still fall through the holes. My gutters were about halfway full of compost, no lie!

Since I put the front gutters on hold, I finished early and was able to make it out Saturday evening for dinner to celebrate my friend Kate’s birthday downtown at The Bar. If you’ve ever seen the movie Gone Girl, you would recognize this bar as “The Bar” from the movie, which was filmed in my town. My friend Trevor also had a birthday on Tuesday, so we had another outing to Broadway Biergarten. My friends Matt and Alyssa also have birthdays coming up at the end of the month, which serves as my annual reminder that summer is just around the corner.

Scene from Gone Girl, borrowed from legendarytrips.com

Which Brings Me to the Subject of this Post

My mom-schedule is a bit different from the traditional divorced parenting schedule. My ex husband lives nearly 200 miles away, and while we do keep the traditional every-other-weekend schedule (yeah…totally fun drive every other weekend!), in order to have joint custody we have to adhere to a school year vs. summer schedule. So during the school year they’re with me full time and their dad every other weekend. In the summer, they’re with their dad full time and with me every other weekend. Which means this coming Monday, their last half-day of school, they will be leaving in the evening to spend the summer with their dad.

It’s always a tough transition. I’m used to having them around, and when they leave I drift around my silent house for a while, almost lost at what to do with myself without dinner to cook every night, laundry to wash every other day, and constant busy work and activities that comes with being a parent. This year, however, I’m kind of looking forward to it. My boys have hit that adolescent stage, and the first teen/pre-teen challenges have taken place in the last couple of months (see Parenting a Teen Part 1 & Part 2), leaving me stressed and mommed-out. I need a break!

I don’t have family in my town, their dad lives far away, and I’m the only adult in the home. Which means my help with the kids is basically at zero. It’s just me, myself and I…and they say parenting takes a village. Well friends, I don’t have a village! I have a tiny little commune on a hill where I am the sole leader and my two little half-grown’s are beginning to challenge me for the crown. I think this summer, no matter how much I miss having them around every day, I’m going to need the time to recover from battle and prepare for another nine months of keeping my would-be rebels in check!

The problem I’m facing is–I feel guilty. I always dread them leaving every year, but this year I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the quiet. To having a house that stays clean for more than 30 minutes so I can do something besides constantly pick up clutter, cook, wash dishes and laundry, and go around the house turning lights off every 10 minutes. To not having three people to get out the door in the morning instead of just one. And to having some adult time to spend with friends.

I’m a mom. But I’m also a single woman. Those two roles are like oil and water, which means I usually have to pick one or the other. So during the school year, I pick mom because my kids are home and they are always my number one priority. But in the summer, I have 10-12 weeks that I get to pick single woman, and it’s so nice to get to explore that part of who I am as well.

Therein lies why I feel guilty. I’m a mom 24/7 and will be for the rest of my life, and I wear that badge proudly. So when I find myself enjoying the fact that I get to take a break from that role for a little while, I feel like I’m somehow saying that I’m glad my kids are gone, or that they’re a burden on me, or that I don’t like being a mom. That couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth! But these two conflicting roles keep me at odds with myself nonetheless.

In spite of the guilt, I can’t help looking forward to the summer. Over the course of this last year, a new friend group has formed and bonded. None of us are married, and all of us are usually up for just about anything at any given time. When someone suggests an activity in the group text, there’s always at least one or two of us, although more often than not at least four of us, that are available to go. It’s almost foreign to me, because when I was growing up my parents quit doing things with friends except for on the rare occasion. I never knew the importance of having friends as an adult, but now that I do I feel really lucky to have all of these people in my life.

Last summer I spent a lot of time on my own to recover from a chaotic winter and spring. I sold a house, bought a house, my grandparents lost their house to a tornado,  we moved them into a temporary apartment, and then I moved–all in the span of about six weeks. And then a couple of months after that we moved my grandparents into the new house they bought. I was beat, and I wanted my solitude. I hid out for most of the summer. This year, I’m looking forward to doing the opposite.

While we were out for Trevor’s birthday Tuesday we were talking about all of the different things we want to do, from chilling on a beach, to hiking, to even traveling overseas. There are so many things I want to do, and now I know that I have people to do them with and that is SO much better than doing them all alone. This is the part of my life I get to experience as a single woman, without the mom identity attached. While being a mom is unquestionably the most significant part of my life, it’s these moments that remind me that I am still very much my own, individual person, and that Mom isn’t all that I am.

This is something that I think we easily lose sight of as mothers…whether it’s because we get so consumed with being moms that we forget who we are underneath of it all, or because any time we try to think of ourselves as separate beings we feel consumed with guilt at the thought of detaching ourselves from our children. I’m forced to face it because every summer, like it or not, I do have to detach from my children. And this sometimes leaves me feeling like I’m living two separate lives, as two separate people, because I haven’t yet figured out how to let the two exist together as one.

Even when violently shaken, oil and water only mix for a short while before separating again, the oil of motherhood rising to the top and the water of womanhood sinking down into the depths.




2018 is Off to a Rough Beginning

Dear Friends,

I wonder if the phrase “in like a lion, out like a lamb” applies only to March, or if it might be dispersed across an entire year.

The first 10 days passed smoothly enough and it seemed the transition from 2017 into 2018 was a seamless one. I don’t tend to believe that life gets an abrupt new beginning on January 1st of each year. It’s just a date, a way of marking the passing of time, after all. But now I find myself beginning to wonder if 2018 might be a cursed year for me. At any rate, the last week has certainly been vexing.

Over the course of the last seven days, everything has turned to chaos. It began with the boys’ bikes being stolen right out of our carport in the middle of the night. Nothing else was stolen; nothing of mine; only my boys were victims. I was angry, more at them losing something they loved than at the loss of my money spent on the bikes. At any rate, I bought a new bike chain with a combination lock so that I can ensure the replacement bikes I buy will not meet a similar fate.

That same night, we received our first winter weather of 2018 in the form of freezing rain, topped with sleet. The next morning I found myself trapped because I drive a front wheel drive soda can for a car and live up a mountain. Okay, just a really steep driveway…but when it’s covered in ice it may just as well be a mountain.

I got mad at the driveway, spent a couple of hours chiseling ice, and made a bee-line for St Louis to shop for a Subaru the moment I was able to get my car out without sliding through my neighbor’s living room window. This trip led me to the discovery that Southeast Health decided to bill me for x-rays from four…yes, four…years ago, and turned it over to collections because they typed my address into their system incorrectly so I never received a bill. Nor did I ever receive a phone call, from them or the debt collection agency, despite them having my correct phone number on file.

I only discovered this bill existed because it showed up in my credit report when the dealership ran credit, and it had tanked my credit score. I had to call the hospital to pay the bill and make sure they removed it from collections since it was, as seems to be par for the course with this hospital, their error that led to the bill being reported to collections in the first place.

In the midst of this, the boys came home from their dad’s for the weekend, and Hunter brought home with him the stomach bug that he had picked up from his dad and sister. While Logan and I were battling (still) the driveway, now coated wtih freshly fallen snow, Hunter was quarantined to his room and I spent the next two days scrubbing my hands and repeatedly sanitizing every hard surface in the house. Thankfully we were off on Monday for Martin Luther King Day, but I also had to miss work for Hunter’s illness on Tuesday.

Yesterday morning Hunter was ready to go back to school and I was headed back to work. We left the house at 7:15 per usual, only to find a dead car battery. My first thought was getting the kids to school. I called my friend Ashley, who is also Logan’s teacher, to pick up the boys and take them to school. Then, I called my coworker Josh to come give me a jump. A few failed attempts later I ended up just hitching a ride, as my car battery was beyond the point of resurrection.

I called Dad, who came down after work and took me to buy a battery. It was a quick swap, and my car was back in business. Finally, I could relax. Or so I thought.

Last night, at 3:00 a.m. almost on the nose, I was awakened by the sound of coughing. I realized quickly that it wasn’t coughing, but vomiting that I was hearing. I got up and went to the bathroom, only to find it empty. Was I hearing things? I went back to bed, then heard it again. I jumped up and opened my door, to discover that it was coming from Logan’s room. Oh, no. That means he’s also caught the stomach virus, and thrown up all over himself.

I stripped his bed and took the sheets down to the wash, and put new sheets and a blanket on his bed. I set up the bathroom trash can next to his bed, then went back to bed myself. But there was no sleeping, because over the course of the next three hours he threw up at least another half dozen times. For the sake of sparing him embarrassment, all I will add to this is that I again had to strip his bed and ended up throwing a sheet into the dumpster rather than try to clean it.

Neither of us got any further sleep last night, and today was spent once again manically cleaning and sanitizing every surface in the house he could have touched, or I could have touched after being in his room. My hands are almost raw from the constant scrubbing and germ-x-ing, and I’m hoping desperately that I will not be the next rotavirus victim.

With Logan on the mend and a doctor appointment scheduled for first thing tomorrow morning, my fingers are crossed that he will be back in school and I will be back to work, and life might settle and return to normal in time for the weekend. I had to forfeit my plans for the Crab and Oyster Fest at Broadway Oyster Bar on Saturday, because I don’t want to potentially expose my grandmother, who is back on chemo, to the boys’ virus unnecessarily. But just as I was typing this I received an invite for girls’ night right here in town…and after this last week that might be just what I need!


That Time YouTube Turned My 10-Year-Old into a Wine Maker

Hi Friends!

First of all, let me just say that I’m a huge fan of the in-home gym equipment, because I logged 20 minutes on my elliptical this morning while wearing fleece pajama pants, slippers and a bathrobe! Workout clothes, schmorkout clothes.

Okay, now for the reason you’re all here…

Like most single moms out there, I live on the standard every other weekend schedule. This weekend my two sons are home with me, and they did all of the typical boy things: video games, sleepover with the neighbor’s kid, ate half a bowl of miniature candy canes, and watched YouTube. Now Hunter, my oldest son, views YouTube as an avenue to watch gaming videos and listen to rock music, very loudly.

Logan, on the other hand, uses YouTube as an idea factory. Every other week he has a new hobby, compliments of YouTube. This week’s hobby — wine making. What 10-year-old boy is interested in making wine? Mine, evidently.

I guess I can’t give all of the credit to YouTube for this one. It really started a few months back when he was visiting with the neighbors up the street and was intrigued by the grapes they have growing in their back yard. They planted them years ago to make wine, but have since outgrown their love of wine making and the grapes have become a yard ornament. So they told Logan if he wanted to pick them he could have all he wanted.

So here he comes, blowing through the house in a haste on a search for a bucket. I’m in the kitchen prepping dinner and casually asked him what he wanted a bucket for. “So I can pick grapes! The neighbor said I could have all I wanted!” Now at this point, I’m not surprised. This kid is constantly full of ideas. He’s the biggest mess-maker and the biggest packrat I’ve ever seen. Anything he thinks he can make something with or do something with, he clings to it like it’s the alethiometer and he’s Lyra Belacqua.

This time he wound up with a couple of gallon-size bags, stuffed almost to bursting full of grapes. He decided he was going to take some to his dad’s with him so he could make grape jelly that weekend with his Grammy. The other bag he stuffed into our freezer for another day. Well my friends, that other day came this past week on Tuesday. He and his older brother were home from school on their last day of Christmas break, but I went back to work. When I came home at lunch, I found him in the kitchen, grapes thawed and various bowls and utensils scattered like shrapnel across my counters.

“What in the Sam hill are you doing now?!” He announced, “I’m making wine! I learned how to do it on YouTube!” I felt the impending loss of my sanity creeping into the back of my mind at the condition in which he would no doubt leave my kitchen. But I shook it away and asked him what he needed to get his task accomplished. I helped him acquire the appropriate tools, outfitted him with some empty wine bottles and a couple of my vacu-seal corks, and told him to remember to clean up after himself when he’s done.

The next night I had to make a run to Walmart, and he decided to come along so he could buy yeast to finish up his wine. While we were there, he wanted to “look at things,” and the trip to the toy aisle took us past the housewares department. There at the end of one of the aisles, was a juicer. He spotted it, and I’m pretty sure I actually saw the light turn on in his proverbial attic.

“A juicer?! What in God’s creation do you want with a juicer??” He said, “so I can make wine! Smashing grapes is a pain, I can just juice it with that and it’ll be easier.” I told him we have zero room in the kitchen cabinets, that the crockpots and cake carrier have already overflowed into the hall closet, and there’s nowhere to put it. He said he would keep it in the basement. I told him that was a lot of money to spend on something he’d never use. He was adamant that he would use it ($20 says he puts wine making behind him before the month is out) and that it’s his money and he can spend it on whatever he wants. So I threw up my hands and said okay…go ahead and get it.

That night he put the yeast in the wine bottles and kept the YouTube channels hot. The next morning, as soon as he woke up he ran to the basement to let the pressure out of the wine bottles. Now if I wasn’t busy getting ready for work, I might’ve had the foresight to warn him about what would happen when he pulls the cork… He bolted back upstairs panting dramatically. “Mom! Holy crap it was like champagne! The cork flew up all the way to the ceiling and I was like ‘woah!’ I did not see that coming!”

That evening when I had to run out for a few groceries, the boys wanted to come along so they could go to Target and spend their Christmas money. Our first stop was the grocery store, and Logan was fresh off his wine-making YouTube binge. He bought Mangoes. He bought pineapples. He bought honeydew.

“I can make wine out of all of this!”

“Pineapple wine?? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“I can do it, I watched it on YouTube!”

*sigh* “okay, put it in the cart”

Friday evening he juiced all of the pineapple, and before bed he put sugar and yeast in a glass jug, screwed on the lid and left it on the kitchen counter for the night. Now luckily, the new spin mop I bought from Amazon after Christmas had just arrived the day before…

Saturday morning he was out of bed and in the kitchen before 7 a.m. He twisted the cap on the bottle just a little bit, and air and bubbles started rushing out. He twisted it a little bit more, and they spilled out a little faster. He said he was afraid to take the top off, no doubt remembering his first morning with the wine bottles, so I went over to help him.

I grabbed the lid and gave it a good half-turn. Remember that impending loss of sanity? Well it immediately escaped along with a packet of yeast and a geyser of foam, all over the counters, the kitchen window, the front of the cabinets, the tile floor, and the sleeves of my shirt. Logan, of course, jumped back just in time to escape the launch radius.

I quickly tightened the cap back down, tossed a towel over the bottle, then twisted it again, turning it until it was completely off under protection of the towel.

“Thanks Mom!”

Logan waited for the bubbles to stop, added some water to make up for the juice he lost in the explosion, screwed the lid back on and went back to his Saturday morning as usual. Meanwhile I stood in the kitchen, surveying the site of destruction. Sticky puddles of yellow stood on the counter and the floor. Spatters of juice laced with pineapple pulp coated cabinet doors, the window sill and the kitchen sink faucet. The towel was matted into a sticky knot in the sink, and the smell of rising yeast wafted through the air.

I wrung out the towel, dried up the puddles, and took a wet sponge to the spatters. Then I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t cleaned the floors yet, and went to pull my new spin mop out of the box. As I popped the handle into place, attached the scrubby pads to the bottom, and pulled the canister loose to fill it with cleaner, I thought, “and that awesome, creative, messy little blonde haired boy over there on that couch is the reason this will probably be the best $90 I ever spent.”

And then I went to work, thoughts of being a wine tasting guinea pig dancing in my head.